Problematic, pesky perfume
Nothing beats smelling good, or smelling something good, it is undoubtedly one of life’s simple sensory pleasures. This is the substantive base that a multi-billion dollar industry is founded on. Perfume, or artificial fragrances permeate almost every product imaginable – from the product in its purest form as a perfume or eau de parfume and eau de toilette, to deodorants, body lotions, shampoos and conditioners, face creams, body washes, soaps, fabric softeners and washing powders, candles, diffusers, air and car fresheners, pads and even toilet paper. Fragrances are used for and in everything – they make us smell attractive, they evoke certain feelings in us or remind us of something familiar, comforting, or the exact opposite can also be true.
However, not all that smells good is necessarily so for us health-wise. Recent studies have shown that there may be a darker side to the fragrance industry, and our beloved scents may actually be doing us more harm than good. According to Kate Grenville’s A Case Against Fragrance: “as many as one in three people experience symptoms including headaches, asthma and rashes due to a sensitivity to fragrances.” Migraines are a common side effect associated with the use of perfume in particular with almost three quarters of women suffering from perfume-induced migraines. Grenfell’s research uncovered that the majority of the perfumes on the market predominantly utilise artificial chemicals in order to achieve the desired scents. Manufacturers get away with this because the consumer is unaware of exactly what the perfume contains as they don’t have to disclose all their ingredients as this could potentially reveal the fragrance’s ‘recipe’ as such. This ‘loophole’ means that there is definitely a higher risk of encountering undesirable allergens or experiencing a minor to medium allergic reaction which can result in skin rashes and discomfort, otherwise known as dermatitis.
The effects of immediate or prolonged exposure to certain fragrances can have varying levels of severity in symptoms, some of the minor ones include sneezing, watering eyes and irritation as well as itchiness in the direct skin contact areas. In more severe cases, the constant exposure to allergens in perfumes can lead to chronic skin conditions such as eczema. The more serious effects of perfumes and fragranced products largely affect only two percent of the population, more specifically those who are deemed ‘chemically intolerant’. Chemical intolerance entails an extreme sensitivity that can have disastrous side-effects including ‘scent-induced’ agoraphobia as well as chemically induced mental disorders for those who are potentially predisposed. Even the natural elements of fragrances such as the essential oils can also have negative health effects including the incorrect stimulation of the immune system.
As has been made abundantly clear by the sheer range of fragrances on the market, “scent sells. So not only are there definitely more fragranced products in the world, the fragrances themselves are also more complex. And for many people, repeated exposures can bring about a constellation of symptoms,” Tracie DeFreitas Saab, a human factors consultant with the Job Accommodation Network at West Virginia University.